Junior League of Atlanta – Transforming Legal Aid Once Again
By: Steve Gottlieb, Executive Director – Atlanta Legal Aid Society
To celebrate its Centennial anniversary, the Junior League of Atlanta, Inc. (JLA) announced they would give grants totaling $1 million to local non-profits for “transformational” projects. We at the Atlanta Legal Aid Society were particularly hopeful applicants, because the grant presented an opportunity to expand the reach of our existing work to protect intergenerational wealth through a partnership with two other non-profit legal service providers. Atlanta Legal Aid and our partners, the Georgia Heirs Property Law Center and Pro Bono Partnership of Atlanta, will leverage our collective expertise and resources to provide holistic services to low-income Atlantans living in generational poverty. We also thought it was particularly fitting, because JLA had a “transformational” effect on Legal Aid 40 years ago.
Atlanta Legal Aid has been around since 1924, providing legal services to low-income people on critical problems which affect their everyday lives—protecting clients housing, protecting them against domestic violence and their access to everyday needs like food and medical care. But until the 1970’s we served people who came in our doors and did not look to help populations which had special needs but did not seek us out.
And in 1976, the JLA awarded us a small grant to do outreach to older clients who could not come to our offices (or did not know to). With it we created the Senior Citizens Law Project (SCLP) which still exists 40 years later. That grant was the first special funding we received to expand our services to particularly vulnerable clients. It transformed the program. As a result of the catalyst of JLA’s first small grant, Atlanta Legal Aid has created about 10 special projects with dedicated funding, including those which protect clients with disabilities, handle cases for persons with AIDS and cancer, help grandparents and other relatives caring for vulnerable children, and serve families with sick children using lawyers located in Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta hospitals.
In short, the JLA’s support 40 years ago set the stage for us to expand our service delivery model and, as a result, we have served thousands of clients we never would have reached otherwise.
With a Centennial grant from the JLA, we will expand our delivery model once again. While we have always had robust partnerships with other non-profits, this grant provides an opportunity to formally partner with two other amazing agencies, the Georgia Heirs Property Law Center and the Pro Bono Partnership of Atlanta. Funding from JLA provides our partnership with the resources to really focus on the issue of generational poverty – to dive deep and determine the best way to maximize our collective resources to address the legal issues that prevent low-income families from preserving their assets and resources for future generations.
Each partner brings something unique to the table: Atlanta Legal Aid has expertise in a wide array of poverty law matters, including seniors, multi-generational households, foreclosure prevention, income protection and protecting vulnerable children. The Georgia Heirs Property Law Center has expertise in estate planning and preventing and clearing land ownership problems – legal issues that are commonly neglected in low-income communities. We hope to develop strategies to help low-income families maintain the assets they have for generations. The Pro Bono Partnership of Atlanta brings its connection to over 600 non-profits serving Atlanta area low-income residents. With its help, we will educate these non-profits on critical legal issues that impact the low-income families that we all serve.
We are very excited about this opportunity to help protect the intergenerational wealth of low-income people in Atlanta by making sure their limited assets, and particularly their homes are protected and properly and legally left to their children and other heirs. The JLA has once again stepped up and provided critically needed resources to help us transform legal services to low-income Atlantans by awarding us and our partners a $380,000 grant to do this work over three years. The partnership continues.